Ralph Waldo Emerson famously quoted: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” But after 2,000 miles by car to Puerto Vallarta last week, it’s the destination, not the journey.
I had made the trek from Vallarta to the San Francisco Bay Area and back again when I lived in Puerto Vallarta from 2002 to 2009. It was me and a suitcase. This time, Felice, our German Shepherd Scout and numerous suitcases and bags stuffed our little red VW bug convertible. This time, the journey was not delightful, but the destination certainly is.
After leaving our son’s home in Southern California, we drove to Nogales, Arizona and crossed the border the next day at the crack of dawn. Nogales is an easy crossing into Mexico by car. After a cursory look in the car, customs waved us through (perhaps a 90-pound German Shepherd in the back seat had something to do with that) and we drove on for about 15 miles to the INM office south of downtown Nogales, Mexico. We presented our passports and visas and received our authorization papers and windshield decal to use our foreign-plated car in Mexico. Be prepared to pay about US$367 at the border to register your car in Mexico. The entire process was about 45-minutes because we were there by 6:30 a.m.
The government seems to have spent a lot of pesos building new roads in the northern part of the state of Sonora. Nice highways all the way to Ciudad Obregon, which is about 330 miles south of Nogales. That’s where the honeymoon ended. From that city to Los Mochis, where we stayed at the spartan Hotel Zar, the roads are often two lane and not in good shape. Federal Highway 15 still passes through a number of towns, all with tire-wrecking topes (speed bumps) that are mostly not marked or indicated by road signs.
The most agonizing stretch of highway was from Los Mochis to Culicán, the capital of the state of Sinaloa, known primarily for its murder rate and home base for the Sinaloa drug cartel. The road was more than ready for a face lift. Even the trucks – they seem to be about 70 percent of the road traffic in Mexico – drove in the fast lane to prevent blowouts from the numerous potholes in the road. The highway improved greatly on the way to Mazatlán, but things changed after we used the beautiful new by-pass road around that resort city and headed for Tepic, the last major city and capital of the state of Nayarit, before reaching Puerto Vallarta.
When I last drove the Mazatlán to Tepic stretch in 2009, the government had built a nice four-lane highway, cutting the time quite a bit. But to our disappointment and safety, someone decided to convert the four-lane stretch to two two-lane highways. This stretch was shown as four-and-a-half hours, but it took us six hours. Here’s why: streaming lines of trucks all moving slower than you, hilly terrain with many no passing stretches, which make it very dangerous, especially with those impatient drivers who want to pass on hills and risk everyone’s lives. Well, apparently, someone risked their own life and the life of others. Less than halfway to Tepic all south-bound cars and trucks were shunted off the highway to follow a detour route to by-pass the accident. We were confused at first (even the GPS, which worked so well for us, was confused). We just followed the trucks and got back onto the main highway after about a half-hour.
One of the very pleasant parts of the journey was the discovery of Federal Highway 16, which heads west to San Blas through a gorgeous canyon leading to the ocean. It’s an alternative route to Vallarta from Tepic that allows you to avoid driving through that city.
The final push took a long time primarily because of winding roads through the mountains and heavy Friday evening traffic headed to PV. We arrived at our new home around 7:45 p.m., dusk on the Bay of Banderas, after spending 15 hours on the road. The best news of all, though, was our friend Carlos Rosas waiting at our new home with dinner and a cold beer.
A few more road observations: First, the number of toll booths (Cuotas) has exploded since I last drove the highways of Mexico 10 years ago. They are not expensive, just plentiful. The most we paid was just under US$9, but most were less than US$5. Second, October is a time of year when many roads are under construction and/or repair following the deleterious effects of the rainy season, which begins in June and mostly ends in October.
With the trip now in the rear view mirror, I can assuredly say that the pain of the journey is rapidly receding, superseded by the infinite joys of living once again in paradise.